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Conservatives are trying to paint liberal comedian Bill Maher as the same kind of public relations hazard for Democrats that Rush Limbaugh has become for Republicans.
Limbaugh ignited a firestorm when he called a Georgetown law student a "slut" and "prostitute" after she testified in Congress about health insurance and birth control. (To see her complete comments, read "In Context:
In Context: Sandra Fluke on contraceptives and women's health.")
Essentially, Limbaugh used misogynistic terms to attack a woman whose political view he opposes.
President Barack Obama waded into the controversy. He telephoned the law student, Sandra Fluke, to offer his support, saying he wouldn’t want his own daughters to be attacked because "they're being good citizens."
Conservatives point out that at least one politician's daughter has not been off-limits to Maher. They bring up Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol, who published her memoir "Not Afraid of Life." Maher quipped on this TV show that the working title was "Whoops, There’s a D**k in Me."
Maher, meanwhile, has donated $1 million to Obama’s super PAC Priorities USA Action. Now She PAC, a political action committee that backs conservative women running for federal office, is calling for Priorities USA to return it.
She PAC’s March 8 video "Bill Maher: Obama's Million Dollar Man" features short clips of what it characterized on its website as Maher’s "violent, hateful and derogatory" comments. It’s been viewed some 400,000 times since its release.
White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that by law, a candidate cannot dictate the actions of a super PAC.
"As a general matter, obviously language that denigrates women is inappropriate," Carney said.
For his part, Maher said liberals should accept Limbaugh’s apology, but he declared he’s no Limbaugh.
"I am a pottymouth. That’s different than a misogynist. I admit to being a pottymouth," Maher said on a recent episode of his HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Still, the controversy won’t go away. On March 7, the news website The Daily reported that Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod was slated to appear on Maher’s show in the coming weeks. On March 13, Politico reported that Axelrod will not appear on the show.
Then on March 15, CNN's Erin Burnett confronted Axelrod about Maher’s donation. Axelrod replied that Maher and Limbaugh's statements were different.
"Understand that these words that Maher has used in his stand-up act are a little bit different. Not excusable in any way, but different than a guy with 23 million listeners using his broadcast platform to malign a young woman for speaking her mind in the most inappropriate, grotesque ways," Axelrod said.
"Nor does Bill Maher play the role in the Democratic Party that Rush Limbaugh plays in the Republican Party, where he’s really the de facto boss of the party," he said.
How similar are Maher’s and Limbaugh’s comments? We thought this would be a good subject for PolitiFact’s "In Context" series, where we publish controversial statements in their original context.
We were able to find longer versions of all but three of the excerpts of Maher’s statements that were featured in She PAC’s video. We transcribed them below.
"Speaking of dumb tw*s"
HBO: Real Time with Bill Maher, March 18, 2011
[MAHER] Oh and did you hear this? Sarah Palin finally heard what happened in Japan, and she’s demanding that we invade Tsunami. I mean, she says, "these Tsunamians will not get away with this." Oh -- speaking of dumb tw*s, did you, um [AUDIENCE CHEERS]. Oh you’re right, yeah. I let the cat out of the bag on that one, huh folks?
No, have you seen -- how many of you are familiar with what they’re now calling the UCLA Girl? If you watch the Internet, this idiot co-ed posted this, you know, racist rant, really, on YouTube.
I think it’s called "Asians in the Library." Spoiler alert, it’s about Asians in the library. And now apparently she has to be killed. [TO SOMEONE OFF STAGE] Show a little clip of it. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ll be familiar.
[VIDEO PLAYS. WOMAN SPEAKS] In America, we do not talk on our cell phones in the library. "Oh, ching ching ling long ting tong. Oh." Are you freaking kidding me? In the middle of finals.
[MAHER] Her safety school is Hooters, by the way. So now she’s received death threats, censure from the university and a marriage proposal from Rush Limbaugh.
Maher insults Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann "not because they have breasts. It’s because they are boobs" and Palin is the "leader of a strange family of inbred weirdos"
HBO: "Real Time with Bill Maher," posted July 16, 2011
[MAHER] And finally -- new rule. Republicans have to stop thinking up intricate psychological explanations for why liberals don’t like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. Let me save you all some time. Are you ready? Because they’re crazy people.
People who are not that bright and full of awful ideas. Pretty much the same exact reasons we didn’t care for George Bush and made jokes about him. So, trust me, it’s not because they have breasts. It’s because they are boobs.
Now, I’m not saying that sexism doesn’t exist and isn’t real. But we can’t throw around the word "sexist" just to stop people like me from pointing out that Michele Bachmann, now running second for the Republican presidential nomination, isn’t a dangerous nincompoop.
And when I point out that Sarah Palin is a vainglorious braggart, a liar, a whiner, a professional victim, a scold, a know-it-all ... a bully who sells patriotism like a pimp and the leader of a strange family of inbred weirdos straight out of "The Hills Have Eyes," that’s not sexist. I’m saying it because it’s true. Not because it’s true of a woman.
But you know what is sexist? Ignoring poor Tim Pawlenty just because he’s not pretty. He was a governor who finished his term. Why doesn’t he get the cover of Newsweek like Sarah got this week? And this cover [Newsweek cover featuring Palin] she got a few months ago? The short shorts are a metaphor for an era of economic limits. And this one about the Second Amendment. And this one about the separation of church and state? And this one about Halloween masks? And this one, where Newsweek just said "f*** it" and did their first all tea party swimsuit issue. I just hope no sexists get the wrong idea.
If you want to know where most of this nation’s sexism is coming from, you don’t have to look further than the one person who makes the cover of Newsweek more often than Sarah Palin. [Newsweek cover stories about Jesus] In America, you’re allowed to justify almost any kind of bigotry, sexism or intolerance if you source it to God’s Big Book of Bad Ideas.
God. That’s Jesus’ dad. Someone who definitely had issues with women. Michele Bachmann proudly tells the story of how she had no desire to become a tax lawyer but her husband commanded her to.
That’s right, he commanded her to become a tax lawyer. And what are you going to do? It says so right in the Bible. She quotes it. "Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands." And I’m the sexist? That’s weird.
But you know what’s really weird? Michele Bachmann tells her husband, "I’ll do anything you tell me to do." And his response isn’t, "Let’s have a three way" or, "I wanna--" [pauses for laughter] "Let’s have a three way" or "I want to cover you in Cool Whip." It’s "I want you to be a tax lawyer." That is some sick, twisted s**t.
"I hope Sarah Palin gets in so they split the MILF vote."
CNN: "Piers Morgan Tonight," July 11, 2011
[MORGAN] Now if you had a choice, a gun to your head. Which one is it? Palin or Bachmann?
[MAHER] I would need a gun to my head. I hope Sarah Palin gets in so that they split the MILF vote. But I guess Bachmann. I don’t know, who can say? Because, at least she’s someone who can read. You know, she has a job. She was a lawyer, she’s in Congress. She’s not someone who just sits there and reads the prayers on her Blackberry like Sarah Palin. I mean, you know, we’re splitting hairs here.
[MORGAN] Could Sarah Palin become president? Is it possible in the current climate?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. People who say this one is a joke or this one is a joke -- I remember when I was 12 years old in 1968 and Ronald Reagan was first considering running for president. And I remember what a joke that was. Ronald Regan? You mean the "Bedtime for Bonzo" guy? Well, I think he did become president.
Yes, absolutely. Because she could get the nomination, and anything can happen, with -- I mean, this Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party. Somewhere along the line they got on a short bus to Crazy Town. And if someone gets the nomination of one of the two major parties, especially in a bad economy, with a black president, yes, she could become president.
Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol Palin "f***ed Levi over and over until a baby fell out."
HBO: Real Time with Bill Maher, June 24, 2011
[MAHER] And finally, new rule: Bristol Palin has to admit that the reason she f***ed Levi over and over until a baby fell out is because she liked it. In Bristol’s new memoir, "I’m Not Afraid of Life," working title, "Whoops, There’s a D**k in Me," Bristol claims that the night she lost her virginity she had accidentally gotten drunk on wine coolers that she didn’t know contained alcohol and then blacked out and then didn’t remember a thing. Oh, the Palins. I tell you the s**t doesn’t fall far from the bat.
Bristol, just admit it. You were horny. And while we’re at it, stop claiming you were on birth control pills that didn’t work when you got pregnant. Here’s a tip. Hon, they’re not birth control pills if they’re shaped like Fred Flintstone.
Now, for all the mistakes Bristol made in getting pregnant, the underage drinking, the unprotected sex, the forgetting to take pictures to sell to Us Weekly, the one thing Republicans all agree she did right is having the baby. Republicans love babies more than anything else. They’re like tax cuts that you can breastfeed.
"They fined CBS a million dollars for Janet Jackson’s nipple. Think what they can get for Hillary Clinton’s c**t."
HBO: Real Time with Bill Maher, Posted Feb. 21, 2008
[MAHER] Let me ask one more question from the Internet. Black Knight asks, "Does the panel agree with MSNBC for suspending David Shuster for his comment that Chelsea Clinton is quote "pimping" for Hillary?"
You know that, by the way, if Chelsea Clinton is pimping for Hillary, then John McCain is pimping his mother. ‘Cause his 96-year-old mother gets trotted out at every one of his events to show "See I’m not gonna die soon. I’ve got a 96-year-old mother. That’s how not dead I’m going to be by the end of my second term."
It was a very poor choice of words. So what. It’s like everybody has to go away. You make a poor choice of words and you have to go away. Jane Fonda, you heard what she said? Now they fine CBS $1 million for Janet Jackson’s nipple. Think what they could get for Hillary Clinton’s c**.
"The Maverick and the MILF"
HBO: Real Time with Bill Maher, posted Aug 30, 2008
The only job she [Palin] had before this in politics was the mayor of a small town called Wasilla, Alaska. And now she has the opportunity to be on a ticket opposite of Barack Obama, the first black man she has ever seen. Only in America, ladies and gentleman. Only in America.
I’m not kidding. She was the mayor of Wasilla, population 7,000, before she became the governor of Alaska, population San Bernardino. This isn’t a presidential ticket. It’s a sitcom. The Maverick and the MILF. Oh boy, Wilford Brimley and Megan Mullally. The Maverick and the MILF.
Are you kidding me? The mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Yeah, that’s who you want at a time of crisis in the White House. When she got a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning, it was because a moose had gotten into the garbage can.
And I think this is pertinent because McCain has been running this campaign based on "We’re at war, it’s a dangerous world out there, it’s a dangerous world. I, John McCain, am the only one standing between the bloodthirsty al-Qaida and you. But if I die, this stewardess can handle it."
Wow, I am not kidding. Governor Sarah Pay-lin, Palin -- whatever, I’m learning. When they were vetting her for this job, like three seconds ago, she said, quote "What is it exactly that the VP does every day?" Let me field that one for you, Sarah. They start wars, they enrich their friends, they subvert the Constitution and they shoot people in the face. That’s what the vice president does.
I mean, an Alaskan hockey mom is a heartbeat away from the presidency? When McCain says "country first" -- this country? That’s what they’re talking about? And the McCain people, they believe that Americans will disregard her inexperience because they will fall in love with her story. She was a runner-up, I’m not making this up, in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant, which may sound trite, but you try walking in high-heeled snowshoes.
And the trump card why Americans will fall in love in her -- she’s got five kids. How can you not vote for someone who has five children. Including an infant. Some touching details about the infant -- it has Down syndrome. She had it when she was 43 years old. And it looks a lot like John Edwards. I mean, five kids? Does anyone in that party understand the concept of pulling out?
Read more about the ongoing Bill Maher v. Rush Limbaugh debate on The AJC's Political Insider blog.
YouTube.com, "Bill Maher: Obama's Million Dollar Man," posted March 8, 2012
She PAC, letter to Bill Burton, co-founder, Priorities USA, March 7, 2012
MRC TV, "Bill Maher Slurs Sarah Palin as a 'Dumb Twat'," March 18, 2011
Mediaite, "Dear Bill Maher: Critics Should Stop Calling You ‘Sexist’ When You Stop Calling The Tea Party ‘Racist’," June 16, 2011
Newsbusters, "Bill Maher Calls Palin and Bachmann MILFs on CNN," June 25, 2011
Newsbusters, "Bill Maher on Bristol Palin: 'The S--t Doesn't Fall Far From The Bat'," June 25, 2011
YouTube, video clip from "Real Time with Bill Maher", posted Feb. 21, 2008
YouTube, "Bill Maher about Sarah Palin," posted Aug 30, 2008
New York Daily News, "Obama: I was thinking about Sasha, Malia when I called Sandra Fluke," March 6, 2012
Real Clear Politics, "Carney On Bill Maher: Obama Not Arbitrator Of Every Political Statement," March 8, 2012
Politico, "David Axelrod bails on Bill Maher," March 13, 2012
Politico, "The left’s war on Rush Limbaugh's advertisers," March 14, 2012
The Daily, "Politically Incorrect," March 7, 2012
Cnn.com, Political Ticker blog, Axelrod: Limbaugh, Maher sexist comments different, March 15, 2012